A year or so into working at Northrop Grumman, I attended a leadership seminar in which four lifetime employees (20-40+ years of service) sat at the front of the room and talked about their experiences there.
The oldest was an engineer. A guy with hundreds of patents to his name. A true legend that would impress anyone and I immediately felt thankful for his contributions to the company, to radar technology, and to our nation.
Seeing him up there warmed my heart because he was exactly where he was supposed to be in order to make the biggest impact on the world.
Immediately next to him was a manager, John, with twenty years of experience. He was a smart guy who spoke plainly, which was new for us given the corporate-speak we’d been used, and he told an allegory that has stuck with me ever since.
In front of you sit five balls labelled work, family, health, friends, and spirit.
The work ball is made of rubber but the family, health, friends, and spirit balls are made of glass. Your purpose is to juggle all of these balls in the air. If you drop the work ball, it just bounces right back up without a scratch. If you drop the others, they’ll get scuffed, cracked, or shattered beyond repair.
I would later learn that this allegory is attributed to Bryan Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola.
The most poignant part of the roundtable discussion was when John was asked if he’d do anything differently. To a group of young ambitious engineers hungry for career advice, John said that he’d work less. He’d spend more time with his family. He’s focus more on his health.
It had the biggest impact on me, I just didn’t know it yet.
I was fortunate in that I didn’t drop too many balls (or that when I did, they didn’t break) but I did let work dominate.
I identified with being an entrepreneur first, rather than a father or a husband or a golfer or a runner or whatever else. I love my family, I enjoy golf, I run, and I certainly put in the time and am present – but I saw work as the purpose.
For me, a Rich Life meant financial success in business.
I let it be my purpose and when it was removed, I felt an emptiness. I wouldn’t classify it as depression but I know now what people mean when they say depression isn’t sadness, it’s emptiness.
A Rich Life is more than work. It’s more than promotions and it’s more than raises. It’s about getting the most out of life so that when you look back, you aren’t looking at broken glass balls or an emptiness after decades of work.
It’s about building your life so that it’s well-rounded and balanced. It’s about being able to focus on family, friends, health, and spirit – in addition to work.
I don’t know what the answer is. This is a tough journey for me too.
After I sold a business, I immediately went to create others to fill the time and emptiness. It worked, for a short while, but unless I figure out how to build a Rich Life I’ll be back in the same place again. I need to figure out how to strengthen those glass balls, to stretch that allegory even further.
It’ll be exciting, sometimes scary, and I’m not sure where we’re going but we’ll have fun. I hope you’ll join me.